The Mariners Have Sucked As We Head Into The All Star Break

Look for my post later this week:  Are The Mariners REALLY Going To Blow Their Playoff Spot To The A’s Again?

The Mariners are 3-8 in their last 11 games following that 8-game winning streak, which followed their 3-7 stretch against the Red Sox & Yankees.  I think we all understood why the M’s went 3-7 against two of the three best teams in all of baseball; but 3-8 against the Angels and Rockies?  I know those teams are okay, but they’re nowhere near as good as the Sox & Yanks!

The first half was punctuated by a 3-game sweep in Colorado over the weekend.  On Friday, it was an underwhelming spot-start by Christian Bergman.  The offense had it, but the pitching was terrible, and we lost 10-7.  Then, on Saturday, the pitching was okay – LeBlanc was far from spectacular though – but the hitters did nothing and we lost 4-1.  Finally, on Sunday, mediocrity across the board!  Leake had a quality start, but Nicasio gave up our 1-run lead, and Vincent allowed the Rockies to walk it off in the bottom of the 9th.  The hitters were once again terrible with RISP (3/11) and it was a 4-3 loss.

Tough breaks all around.  Yeah, you could say the Mariners are in desperate need of a half a week off.  You could also say I’m in desperate need of half a week off from the Mariners, so let’s enjoy ourselves, everyone!

I’ll be back on Friday to talk about the M’s & A’s, now 3 games separating one another from that second wild card spot.  Wouldn’t it be so Mariners to have such an awesome record and still find a way to miss out on the playoffs?

The Mariners Had Some Trouble Against The Rockies

The Mariners lost the first two games of the weekend series against the Rockies, and it wasn’t even close.  Losing 7-1 and 5-1, only to win the finale 6-4 is a big reason why we’re only +17 in run differential in spite of the fact that we’re 23 games over .500.

Of course, in the two defeats, we had injuries to contend with.  Mike Zunino is on the DL, which makes an already-bad position a million times worse.  The Mariners have to be among the worst in all of baseball in offensive production from the catcher spot, where our mostly-everyday starter is hitting just .189.  It’s somehow this bad and Mike Marjama still decided to retire from the game of baseball, which is a mind-blowing revelation we just learned about recently.

Anyway, Mike Haniger was also out on Friday, when we lost 7-1.  Felix wasn’t great (lasting only 5 innings, giving up 3 runs), the bullpen was worse, and there you go.  A Denard Span solo homer was the only thing keeping us from being shut out.

We got Haniger back for Saturday, but had to sit Dee Gordon with a hip issue, and the bottom third of our order was John Andreoli, David Freitas, and Andrew Romine.  They absolutely lived up to expectations as the Mariners lost 5-1.  James Paxton was on the hill and the game was a 1-1 tie heading into the 7th inning; then after a 1-out walk and bloop single, he made a mistake with his cutter in the middle of the plate that was turned around for a 3-run home run.  They tacked on another run in the 9th, but that was really all they needed.  This time, it was a Jean Segura solo homer preventing us from being shut out.

We got Gordon back for Sunday and were back to mostly full strength.  Ryon Healy had a 2-run double and a 3-run homer to lead the charge, as Wade LeBlanc muscled through 6 innings (giving up 4 runs) and the bullpen locked it down to give him his 5th win of the season.  Edwin Diaz got his 35th save of the season.

This series was a classic example of how this team could be in trouble if we run into too many injuries down the stretch.  You could say that about every team, but I think it’s especially tenuous with this M’s team and how we’re winning ballgames.  We need everyone, working in perfect harmony, to account for all these close wins; take even one man out, and it starts to break down.

Also, this series was a classic example of the Rockies straight up murdering bad pitches.  It seemed like not a single mistake went by them.  I mean, shit, their backup catcher hit TWO triples on Friday!  That’s a .153 hitter!

We play them again next week, in Colorado, and then God willing that’ll be the last time we ever see this team, so whatever.  In the meantime, the M’s have a day off today, then it’s 6 more road games until the All Star Break.  Time to go down to Anaheim and further bury the Angels, then see what we can do against the Rockies.

The Mariners Took 2 Of 3 Against The Angels

Seemingly on the ropes, the Angels brought back Shohei Ohtani just to DH this series, but it wasn’t enough.  Turns out the Angels don’t do a whole lot when Mike Trout isn’t hitting .600 against the Mariners.

I was at the game on the 3rd, sitting in a suite, drinking all I could drink and eating a fair amount to boot.  As I was rightly hammered, I don’t remember a whole lot about this game.  Other than the sweet beer can tower we built out of 16-ouncers:

This took three men and a lot of heart …

Wade LeBlanc signed his extension before the game, which was a bit of good news.  I was all ready for him to fall on his face against the Angels, allowing me to make an endless string of “perfect timing” jokes, but the dude’s a stud and this signing is looking better and better all the time.  7 innings, 1 run on 3 hits & 1 walk with 4 strikeouts.  The M’s built up a 3-run lead in the first and a Nelson Cruz homer late was all we needed.  Edwin Diaz got his 33rd save and we won the game 4-1.

I watched the game on the 4th from home, slightly hungover, but not too damaged.  Mike Leake didn’t really have it in this one and we were 2/12 with RISP.  Lots of mistakes in this one cost us the sweep, but that’s okay.  Angels took it 7-4.

Last night’s game was past my bedtime, but I hear nothing but good things from Marco Gonzales, who gutted out 6 innings of 1-run ball.  Guillermo Heredia had a couple doubles; Dee Gordon had a triple and a single (and a run, and an RBI, and a miraculous diving catch to save at least a run from scoring); and Chris Herrmann had his first homer in a Mariners uniform.  The bullpen was near perfect and Edwin Diaz got his 34th save of the year, as the M’s won again by the score of 4-1.

On the downside, Mike Zunino is on the DL with an ankle injury.  Considering he plays practically every day, maybe giving him a couple weeks to rest isn’t the worst thing in the world for his longevity late in the season.  Mitch Haniger was also scratched before the game, as he ran into a wall and has a bruised knee.  He’s not on the DL yet, as he’s only expected to miss a couple games, so let’s hope that’s the case.

The Mariners now have a 12-game lead over the Angels, who would need to go on a crazy hot streak to get back in contention.  This just doesn’t feel like their year (single sarcastic tear).  I suppose, for the time being, the A’s are our only competition for the second wild card spot, and they’re still a whopping 7.5 games back.

On the brighter side of things, we’re just 2 games back of the Yankees for the first wild card spot, and only 1.5 games behind Houston for the division lead.  Got a long way to go, but the Mariners are here to stay.

The Rockies come to town this weekend, then it’s a quick trip to Anaheim and Colorado, then it’s the All Star Break.  Let’s get ready to rumble and whatnot.

Should The Mariners Extend Nelson Cruz?

When the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal before the 2015 season, I was in the camp that yelled out to the heavens, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”  I wanted him a year earlier – when he was a bargain for the Orioles on a 1-year deal – but we missed out.  Not letting that opportunity slip through our fingers a second time, Jackie Z & Co. signed him to a $57 million contract (all guaranteed, because MLB), $1 million as a signing bonus, with four equal shares of $14 million per year paying out accordingly.

Given his age, his declining athleticism from an outfield defense perspective, and his injury history, I think we all took that deal in the same vein we did the Robinson Cano deal:  if we can get his usual offensive production for half of the deal, it would be worth it.  Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

Well, we’re just over halfway through the final year of that deal, and as Mariners fans we’re up to our EYEBALLS in gravy!

I know it sounds crazy, but as purely a DH making $14 million per year, Nelson Cruz has nevertheless been a total bargain.  He’s averaged over 150 games per season (and is on his way to matching that this year), he’s hit for 44, 43, and 39 homers (respectively), and he’s already got 22 this year (on pace to surpass 40 homers yet again).  This is what we brought him here for, to hit dingers and hit for a solid average.  And, while those numbers have been steadily declining, it’s been ever-so-slight; so slight as to really be negligible from a production standpoint.  2015 was his best year with the Mariners (and arguably his best year ever), but he’s only dropped a tad since then.  Instead of falling off of a mountain, Cruz is enjoying a leisurely stroll down a molehill.

He could drop dead the moment I publish this post and his stint with the Mariners would STILL be better than my wildest dreams upon his signing 4 years ago.  Which brings us to the ultimate question:  should the Mariners keep him around beyond 2018?

I find myself saying the same things I always say about a beloved veteran athlete whose prime might be just behind him, but is otherwise still playing at a high level:  I wouldn’t mind having him back, under the right contract.  Obviously, I want something that’s somewhat team-friendly, but I also live in the real world, and I understand how deals work in the MLB.  Reports indicate Cruz is looking for a multi-year deal.  Given how much of a boss he’s been for the majority of his career – but especially when he got out of Texas and became more of an all-world DH – my hunch is he’ll get what he’s looking for.  But, “multi-year” can mean a lot of things.  Since he just turned 38 years old this week, I can’t imagine he’ll land anything beyond a 2-year contract (it only takes one team, of course, so it wouldn’t TOTALLY shock me if he saw a 3-year deal from someone like the Royals or, I dunno, the Orioles maybe; but I highly doubt it).  So, would I be interested in the Mariners signing him to a 2-year deal worth $26-$30 million?

I mean, again, I probably wouldn’t be devastated, but the more I think about it, the more I start to wonder if I’m coming at this from the wrong angle.

I keep saying I want to be the type of fan that roots for teams who get rid of aging players a year too early vs. a year too late.  So, I need to build some thicker skin about these types of things.  Yes, Cruz has been wonderful in a Mariners uniform; you can consider me a fan for life for all he’s done.  Do I really want that legacy tarnished if he turns into a Richie Sexson in his final season with us?

More to the point:  do I think Cruz has two MORE years where he can give us this type of 4-win production?

The Mariners just signed Wade LeBlanc to an extension this week.  He’s got guaranteed money for 2019, with apparent team options (and incentives) based on his performance that could see him in Seattle through 2022.  It’s basically one of the most team-friendly deals I’ve ever seen that wasn’t negotiated by the player directly.  A lot of the Mariners core we have now is locked up at least through next year, if not for many years to come.  Cruz is really the most important player not under contract for next year, which is why this is coming up now.

For what it’s worth, the LAST thing I want to have happen is for the Mariners to extend him before the season ends.  I mean, let’s face it, he’s one major injury away from calling it a career.  That’s just the way these things go when you get to be his age.  If he tears a rotator cuff or an ACL or otherwise has to go on the shelf for up to a year, how good do you think he’s going to be when he comes back?  That’s assuming he has no setbacks!  Will he have the power he has now?  Will he be able to hit for the average he’s hitting now?  Or, will both of those numbers dip to the point that – considering he plays no defense whatsoever – he’s just a replacement-level player that can only DH?

Sorry, but you HAVE to wait to see how his season plays out before even CONSIDERING an extension.  At which point, I say you wait for the market to dictate what he’s worth.  Teams haven’t been willing to shell out mega millions for designated hitters in recent years.  You could argue he’s different, and given his work ethic and leadership abilities, he’s worth more than your average lumbering slugger.  But, I wouldn’t bet he’ll get insane money.  It’s even possible he’d earn less of a base salary (with more in the way of incentives) than he’s getting now.

And, as always, Bob Dutton makes some good points here.  What do the Mariners want to do with Robinson Cano after this year?  We’re in the 5th year of his 10-year deal, and the plan all along was to eventually move him away from second base.  With his suspension, it looks like that plan has been accelerated.  It was always going to require the Mariners getting a worthy second baseman to take his place, and with Dee Gordon’s emergence, you can see why the team is comfortable with him there.  And, with Healy under team control (arbitration eligible through 2022), and Evan White behind him, I don’t see a lot of free time from the first base position.  Besides that, how would Cano take to a possible transition there?  He might prefer (and even be better suited) to simply DHing.

These are all questions we have facing us in mid-August when Cano returns from his suspension, by the way.  Where does he fit?  I would assume he’ll still play some at second base, but not so much that it cuts Dee Gordon out (who will need to be our starter there in the playoffs).  I would also assume Cano fills in at first base on a part time basis – possibly against right-handed pitchers? – but it’s going to be a struggle.  You can’t play Cano at DH over Cruz, barring injury.  But, you CAN play him at DH starting next year, if Cruz is playing elsewhere.

Based on the way the roster is constructed, this seems to be the most sensible and smartest way to go.  I love Cruz, and in another world I wouldn’t mind him finishing his career in Seattle.  But, we’ve got Cano for another 5 years, at $24 million per year, rendering him effectively untradeable.

Best case scenario has the Mariners passing Cano through waivers in August and sending him somewhere in a salary dump deal with a team looking for some veteran leadership.  But, considering he has a full no-trade clause, that seems unlikely.  It would also require the Mariners to eat anywhere from $10-$14 million per year for the rest of the contract, which almost defeats the purpose.

Unless the purpose is to use the money you’re saving to put it up toward a Nelson Cruz extension.  Long story short, the only way I want to see the Mariners extend Cruz is by first ridding themselves out from under the albatross that is Cano’s massive contract.  Since that seems impossible, I’m afraid we’re going to have to bid adieu to Mr. Cruz after this season, with the consolation being that we enjoyed the perfect free agent transaction (which is so rare nowadays).

The Mariners Sucked Against The Yankees & Red Sox

1-5 in their first 6 games of this road trip.  Swept by the Yankees, then a pretty bad series against the Sox.

In the finale against the Yankees, Paxton gave up 4 runs in the first and we lost 4-3.  We did about as well as can be hoped against Luis Severino – scoring all 3 in 5.2 innings of work – but couldn’t touch their bullpen.

Then, on Friday, we had a rematch of that crazy Wade LeBlanc game against Boston, only this time it was just as crazy the opposite way.  The knuckleballer gave up 10 runs in 3.1 innings, as the M’s just teed off on him.  But, LeBlanc didn’t have anything either, giving up 6 runs in 4.2 innings of work.  Nevertheless, we held a lead of 4-0 and immediately gave it up in the bottom of the first; then, we built up a 10-5 lead before the bullpen sucked its way to a 14-10 defeat.  Vincent and Nicasio were the main culprits of ineptitude.

On Saturday, Mike Leake dominated with 8 shutout innings and Edwin Diaz got touched up a little bit as he hadn’t pitched in a week.  We still won 7-2.

We lost the season series on Sunday, as Marco Gonzales didn’t have it and Chris Sale ABSOLUTELY had it.  We lost 5-0 to get the fuck out of there.

It’s obviously a bummer, but not a shock that the Mariners lost to these teams in this fashion.  Now, we go to Baltimore for a 4-game set to try to somewhat salvage the road trip.  Winning all 4 would make us 5-5 for the trip, but that’s obviously not how you want to do it.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t throw a 5-5 road trip out of bed for eating crackers at this point.

I’m on vacation this week, so posting will be sporadic at best.  Go M’s, I guess.

See, It’s Not JUST That The Mariners Are In The Second Tier In The American League …

My hunch is that we’re going to look back on that Saturday game – June 16th against the Red Sox – where Wade LeBlanc mastered the Magical Sword to the tune of an eventual 1-0 victory that saw the Mariners get to 21 games over .500, as the high-water mark on the season.  It’ll never be as good or as promising as it was on that day.

We’re starting to see the cracks in this roster, as the M’s have lost 4 games in a row for the first time all year, and we all come to grips with the fact that there are the Haves … and everyone else in the A.L.  It doesn’t get any easier this weekend, as the Red Sox are surely looking for some revenge.  Also, there’s some lowkey rumblings about Paxton’s health ever since he recently complained of a little forearm tightness that he was able to pitch through (as he’s been pretty pedestrian in his last two starts), which is absolutely not an injury this pitching staff can afford to sustain.  As everyone is aware, the rate of winning the Mariners were on up through last Saturday was pretty unsustainable.  As Robbie Cano isn’t walking through those doors anytime soon, and as the Mariners are otherwise as healthy as can be expected (with the return tonight of Nick Vincent from the DL), this is more or less the team we’ve got to roll with the rest of the way.

The fact that the Mariners – AS IS – aren’t in the same league as the Yankees, Astros, or Red Sox is bad enough.  The M’s have built up enough of a lead in the wild card standings to pretty much coast the rest of the way into the playoffs; but it’s looking like more and more of an impossibility that we’ll be able to do any damage once we get there.  What’s worse, of course, is that not only are those teams significantly better, but all three of them have room to improve and the resources to go out and make those improvements a reality.

Those organizations are STACKED with minor league talent, stuck behind already-talented Major League rosters with no way to advance other than to be traded to other teams looking not only to dump salary but pick up prospects in the process.  On top of that, there are SO MANY teams all across baseball who are terrible, who are playing for nothing in 2018, and who will be looking to bolster their rosters with high-level prospects while trading away proven talent to the few contenders remaining.

I mean, what’s it gonna look like if one or two of the best relievers in the game get dealt to the Astros?  What if some amazing starter gets dealt to the Red Sox?  I don’t know how the Yankees can get any better than they already are, but they have the will and the prospects in their farm system to make it happen.  That doesn’t even factor in the Angels – where money is no object – and any potential surprise contenders for the second AL wild card I haven’t even considered to this point.

It’s gonna be a tough road the rest of the way, because as Mariners fans, our expectations have shifted as this team has ballooned its record while feasting on the dregs of the American League.  Can they continue winning at an unsustainable clip?  Or, are we going to see a long stretch of .500 baseball for the foreseeable future as this team coasts to a date with the Yankees or Red Sox in the wild card game?  I don’t want to say the rest of the season is just a formality – as it’s entirely possible this team collapses and gets overtaken by someone else – but I’m pretty confident that we can rule out any competition whatsoever with the Astros for the division title.

There’s No Shame In Being Tier 2, Mariners Fans

This isn’t to say the Mariners aren’t good.  They are!  They’re fine.  They’re still almost certainly going to make the playoffs this year, and if I had to do a power rankings of the American League, I’d still put them ahead of Cleveland, Anaheim, and most of the rest.  But, the Mariners just aren’t the Best of the Best.  They’re not in Tier 1.  And that’s okay.

Tier 1 includes Boston, Houston, and the Yankees (and that’s it).  Those are the three best teams in the A.L. and if you let me, I’d bet everything I own that it’ll be one of those three teams that makes it into the World Series.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are not quite on their level.  We’re probably at the top of Tier 2, but there’s still a drastic difference in quality between the two tiers, as we’ve seen over the course of the last two days.

On Tuesday, Marco Gonzales got rocked, and the Mariners’ offense was held in check as we lost 7-2.  We hung in there for a bit – we were competitive, as is our trademark this year – but a 4-run Yankees fifth inning put it away.

On Wednesday, King Felix looked like the King Felix of Old again, at least through the first four innings.  He had a little bit of a hiccup in the fifth, but still escaped with a 5-2 lead before handing it off to the bullpen.  The M’s were able to ding up a guy making just his second career Major League start (who nevertheless has remarkable stuff, if he ever figures out how to cool it on his pitch count), and things looked pretty good.  But, that Yankees lineup – with power hitters for days – was just too much for our meager bullpen to match up with.  Pazos gave up a run, Colome gave up the blown save with a game-tying 2-run homer, and Cook walked it off with yet another 2-run homer.  What at one point was a 5-0 Mariners lead turned into a 7-5 defeat, as of course we couldn’t do anything with their superhuman bullpen after the fifth inning.

This is 2 years in a row where the Yankees have just bashed the fucking shit out of us.  We went 2-5 against them last year, and all I can picture is Aaron Judge mashing towering moonshot after towering moonshot against our poor excuse for a pitching staff.  This year, we’ve got Giancarlo Stanton playing that role, having homered in both games so far (including the game-winner).

It helps to take a step back and try to remember why we were so excited heading into this road trip.  Well, we split a 4-game series with the Red Sox; that’s something, huh?  Yeah, except it took a crazy come-from-behind rally and an even crazier dominant LeBlanc start to do it.  Does that feel like something that could be replicated in a playoff series?  There was the 3-game sweep of the Angels, but of course they’re super injured and are essentially just Mike Trout and a lot of nobodies.  There was that 2-game split with Houston a couple weeks ago …

Other than that, the Mariners have beaten up on a lot of shitty teams this season.  Which, believe me, I’m not complaining.  You need to beat up on the shitty teams to climb to the top of Tier 2 and make the wild card!  That’s what’s separating us from the Angels, A’s, and the rest of the wild card contenders.  But, if we’re all in agreement that the Mariners are going to make the playoffs (barring a historic collapse), then your expectations have to shift a little bit.  Now, we have to start thinking about what the Mariners are going to do when they get there.

First and foremost, they’re going to have to play a Tier 1 team in that wild card game, which means on that one day, we’re going to have to be almost perfect.  It’s something we’re capable of, but it’s also something that you can’t count on.  If we do luck our way into the ALDS, then that pits us against yet another Tier 1 team (with the way they’re going, figure Houston will have the best overall record by that point).  Who’s excited about the Mariners facing the Astros in a 5-game series?  If that isn’t a 3-game sweep, I’ll eat my hat.  Meanwhile, the Indians get to bumble their way into a guaranteed ALDS spot simply by winning the worst division in baseball.  What a bunch of fucks!

Thankfully, after this week, we’ll be done with the Red Sox and have only 3 more against the Yankees (at home) and that’s it.  Just get us through this East Coast road trip without any fucking rainouts and I’ll take whatever record I can get.

The Mariners Split The Series With The Red Sox

All in all, I’d say that went pretty well.  We lost a close one in that good Felix game; we won one in exciting, high-scoring, come-from-behind fashion; we won a 1-0 nailbiter in that outstanding Wade LeBlanc game; and we got torched on get-away day.

That game on Friday was as exciting as it gets.  I think we all figured the best left-handed starter we’d see this weekend was going to be starting that night, but James Paxton didn’t have his usual stuff.  Also the defense – with its 3 errors that very easily could’ve been 4 or 5 – didn’t have its usual stuff either.  In an absolute disaster of a third inning, Paxton was only able to get one guy out before being pulled, having given up 6 runs (somehow 5 of which were earned).  Chasen Bradford limited the damage to just that, but the M’s found themselves – once with a 3-run lead – down 6-3.

That’s when recently recalled Rob Whalen entered the game to soak up some innings.  (oh shit, if we’d been playing Tampa, I could’ve said “soak up some Rays”!  But we’re all done playing the Rays this season!  I’ll have to save that gem for next year …).  Rob Whalen ended up going 4 scoreless innings to allow the M’s to chip away at that deficit.  Mitch Haniger hit one in in the fifth; Mike Zunino homered in the seventh.  That set the stage for the bottom of the eighth, down 6-5, runners on first and second with one out, and Denard Span pinch hitting for Guillermo Heredia.  He jerked a ball down the right field line for a 2-run double, as the Red Sox outfielder was playing WAY over in right-center for some reason.  With a 7-6 lead, Edwin Diaz came in to shut them down for his 26th save of the season.

If you thought THAT was unexpected, just wait until you get a load of Saturday’s game!  Wade LeBlanc vs. some knuckleballer, on the FOX game of the week!  I have to imagine they were a little underwhelmed with the matchup coming into it, but hot damn were they treated to a pitcher’s duel to end all pitcher’s duels!

To his credit, Steven Wright was pretty outstanding.  The knuckleballer went 7 innings, giving up just 1 run on 5 hits & 2 walks with 4 strikeouts.  As it turns out, though, Wade LeBlanc was remarkably better.  He went 7.2 innings of shutout ball, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 9!  My dad asked me what we could expect of LeBlanc before the game, and I said I’d be ecstatic if he gave up just a couple runs in 5 innings, but he really blew my projection out of the water!  It was as dominant a performance as I’ve seen this year, as he allowed a leadoff hit to start the game, and then nothing until – with two outs in the eighth – he allowed a single to end his night as he faced the minimum up to that point.  Honestly, that first hit he allowed was pretty bogus – as the ump didn’t have his strike zone quite figured out yet – and should’ve been a strikeout.  So, we were THAT CLOSE to perfection, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The one run the Mariners scored was back in third on a single by Cruz, and somehow it held up.  Colome got out of the eighth unscathed, and Diaz worked the ninth for his 27th save of the season.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, I dunno, it got away from us.  Leake didn’t really have it, giving up a 5-spot in the third.  But, he managed to keep it to just that through six innings, so at least he saved the bullpen a little bit.  I think we were all under the impression – as the game went on – that the Mariners would mount a comeback eventually, but it was sort of the opposite.  The Red Sox played add-on, and the M’s really let a lot of opportunities get by them, going 3 for 12 with RISP.  There was, however, another 2.1 innings from Elias, who only gave up 1 run, so that trade is looking better and better.

Hard to be too upset by a 50/50 split, though.  If you offered that to me before the series started, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.  Now, the Mariners go on the road for a huge one:  the final east coast road trip of the (regular) season.  The downside to the weekend is that the Astros just completed a 10-0 road trip to take a 1.5 game lead in the division, which is just insane.  In case you thought the division was in the bag or something (unlikely, I know), it’s not.  We are a full 8 games up on the Angels though, so fuck them.

Thankfully, there’s an off-day today before the festivities start.  One last big test before we coast to the finish line.  Up first: the Yankees.  Our likely rivals in that 1-game Wild Card.  My stomach is all in knots just thinking about it.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Trout Keeps Hitting Homers & The Mariners Keep Winning Ballgames

Look, all I’m saying is MAYBE Ryan Cook isn’t the guy you want on the mound to face Mike Trout.  Also, MAYBE just walk Mike Trout’s fuckin’ ass every single time he steps up to the plate, because this shit is getting ridiculous.  He’s in Barry Bonds In His Prime Minus All The Steroids Allegedly territory, where at this point as long as it doesn’t mean the go-ahead run comes in, I’d walk Trout with the bases fucking loaded!

And even then … I mean, do you have another set of at-bats coming up?  Maybe walking in that go-ahead run is better than the alternative of him clearing the bases?

He’s fucking Superman, what can you say?  I hate him.  I wish he was on any other team outside of the A.L. West (in which point, I’d probably love him).  He’s like Griffey in his prime, minus all the personality.  The fact that he isn’t the biggest superstar on the planet is ridiculous, because I’d venture to say he’s better at baseball than any other guy is better than everyone else in any other sport (aside from LeBron, of course).

Or, I dunno.  Maybe he’s just this great against the Mariners, and he’s a little more mortal against the rest of the league.  31 homers is the most against any team he’s faced in his career; 81 RBI is the second most against any team behind the 86 he’s hit in against the Rangers; 9 triples (tied for the most; again with the Rangers); 93 runs are again the second most (Rangers, 103).  I guess Texas has a claim in this argument.  Also, Trout’s 117 career strikeouts against the Mariners are the most against any team, but I would argue the lion’s share of those came against Felix in his prime.

Anyway, that’s all preamble to say Trout had 2 more homers last night, after having hit 2 homers on Monday.  He’s already at 23 homers on the season, and 5 of them have come against the Mariners.  Also, his slash line in 5 games is .636/.680/1.545; so if it feels like Mike Trout has fucking obliterated the Seattle Mariners this season, take whatever you’re feeling and quadruple it.

I should point out that the Angels have lost both of those games, so if we’re going to beat the Angels every time Mike Trout hits 2 homers in a game, then sign me up!

On Monday, Wade LeBlanc gave up back-to-back solo homers in the first and didn’t look to be long for this world.  He managed to gut his way through 5 innings, keeping them to just those 2 runs, and allowing the Mariners to overtake them.  Nelson Cruz matched Trout homer for homer, hitting a game-tying 2-run bomb in the bottom of the first, then a go-ahead solo homer in the fourth.  Ryon Healy hit the game-winning 2-run home run in the fourth as well, and the Mariners were able to hold onto a 5-3 victory.  Ryan Cook gave up the second Trout homer in this one, spoiler alert.

Aside from that, the bullpen was rock solid on Monday, going 4 innings and giving up just the 1 run.  Bradford and Pazos both took care of business, and Edwin Diaz got his 24th save of the season, no problem.

On Tuesday, Mike Leake’s only blemish was a solo homer to Trout in the fifth.  He went 6 innings, giving up that 1 run on only 4 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts.  Both Haniger AND Healy hit 2 homers apiece to pace Trout in this one, which is pretty cool.  It’s been a while since the Mariners brought their big boy sticks to the ballpark.  Haniger hit a solo homer in the first to take the lead; then a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to RE-take the lead.  Healy’s homers were both of the solo variety (in the sixth & eighth), and Segura tacked on an RBI double in the seventh.  Trout’s 2-run homer (again, off of Cook) made it a 1-run game temporarily, but we put them away late by the score of 6-3.

Again, aside from Cook, the bullpen was great.  Pazos got us out of the 7th, Colome took care of business in the 8th, and Diaz got his 25th save of the season … oddly enough by striking Trout out swinging.

This obviously puts the Mariners in a better position.  We were 1-2 against the Angels heading into this series; after today, we can be no worse than .500 against them.  We’re 0.5 games up on the Astros for the division, and a whopping 6.5 games up on the Angels for the second wild card.

I know I made a lot of noise about how difficult June was looking, but with Tampa shitting the bed, and now the Angels losing a lot of important players to injury, the nagging doubter in my brain wants to poo-poo what the Mariners are doing.  But, this shit is seriously impressive any way you slice it.  If we’re all going to boil this season down to how the Mariners play against the Red Sox and Yankees, then feel free to be my guest.  I mean, odds are we’ll have to play one of those teams in the wild card game, and the other of those teams in the ALDS (if we get that far), so we better figure out a way to either beat them or avoid them.  All I’m trying to say is that this is pretty fun, and let’s keep the ball rolling!